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Systemic Racism and How It Can Affect Our Wellbeing

Summer Issue 2020

7 MINUTE READ from Wellness Interactive Branding, LLC.

By Charu Suri.

Some of us have gone through the hardest months of our lives.

The protests in numerous U.S. cities for the “Black Lives Matter” movement and calls to end police brutality have left many shocked, saddened, but also hopeful for positive change.

Discrimination and racial justice are not new topics in America. From pre- Civil War times to the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, mass protests and civil unrest have been the ways for unheard voices to express themselves.

But the deeply-rooted prejudices that have permeated society for centuries have also taken a sizable toll on human health and wellbeing. Reni Eddo- Lodge, the author of the book, “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” has written, “White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.”

Dr. Branson Boykins, assistant professor and core faculty for the Couple and Family Therapy Program at Alliant International University, says that systemic racism is a disease in our society because often, it does not want to hear the voices of people of color.

“Often, people talk about racism and it leads us to a conversation based on personal experience, but not understanding factual knowledge that has happened for decades,“

he says.

“People often say, ‘If we go to church more’ or ‘If we just loved another’ it will be okay,” says Dr. Boykins. But understanding racism is a complex issue because it goes far beyond single incidents in a community.

“People of color, when they talk about racism, are much more likely to talk about institutional racism as opposed to single acts here and there because they experience so much of it in their daily lives. We just live in a country where the system has shown favoritism to some, and discriminatory barriers to others.“

These types of barriers can deeply affect our wellbeing in various ways: a study that appeared in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2019 looked into the ways racism affects child and adolescent health. The Journal of Counseling Psychology reported in 2011 that perceived racism may impact Black Americans’ mental health.

Dr. Luz Claudio, a tenured professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says that systemic racism affects the health of minorities in various ways.

“Think about the stress that being discriminated against causes your neighbor, your friend, or your colleague,” she says.

“These everyday experiences of racism cause stress that can affect health and wellbeing. The killing of people of color, especially black men, are some of the most horrendous events that we have witnessed as a society now displayed in phone videos.“

We are now witnessing other racist attitudes and actions by regular people with the examples of the “Karen” videos, videos showing harassment of people of color. People of color experience aggressions like these constantly and these chip away at individuals’ health and wellness.”

Liz Beyer-Partin, a Caucasian who is married to a black man, says that her mind is filled with images of black men who have been targeted and killed in the United States. “My husband is my best friend. He is loving, hysterical, and such a wonderful father. But that will not matter if he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, she says.

“You know what will not matter? The witnesses that say he did nothing wrong. The video showing that he did nothing wrong. His huge heart, infectious smile, and beautiful mind. He will not matter,“

she laments.

For many, this particular fear is palpable and all too real. The stress associated with simply surviving can be astronomical. Those who live without the fear of being prejudiced don’t necessarily understand what minorities often go through.

Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and senator serving the state of California, says that

“racism is the biggest public health issue that America is facing. “It is truly a disease,” he says. As a pediatrician, he has observed how it has significant adverse effects on health through implicit and explicit biases, institutional structures, and interpersonal relationships.“

What Can You Do About It?

What we need to do is to listen to people who have been researching this topic and think beyond controlled events.

“Barack Obama recently wrote an article on Medium.com, where he said that “the point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices.“

While instituting specific laws is often not in our hands, there are many things that people, in general, can do to create opportunities for those who may not be given those chances.

Dr. Boykins advises that if you have anger, paranoia, or varying levels of depression, including sadness and lack of motivation, some of those feelings can be quite normal. “I don’t want to quickly jump in and say, seek therapy or health,” he advises. “There may be better resources, such as community centers, or getting support from certain agencies, or leaning towards spirituality.” With technology and social media, there are groups and spaces where you can talk about this and normalize what is presented. “The power of group counseling is that a lot of what you’re feeling internally can be normalized, and some of your feelings can be reduced just by hearing others,” he says.

Dr. Melissa Deuter, director of Sigma Mental Health in San Antonio Texas, advises that if you see systemic racism, call it out. “Name it,” she says. “Lay the blame where it belongs. Shine the light of awareness on the problem wherever it exists. Talk to others who experience inequity. Advocate for diversity. Recruit allies within the leadership or the institutions that need to change their policies. Join organizations that fight injustice and use your voice to support efforts to create change.”

These steps are necessary because physical and mental health symptoms like immune dysfunction, fatigue, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and helplessness can occur. “Self-blame and even shame can result,” she says.

We can also read literature and get better educated about the issues associated with systemic racism. Some books include, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” by Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson; “Black Families in Therapy” by Nancy Boyd-Franklin; “Overcoming our Racism” by Derald Wing Sue; and “Counseling Persons of African Descent” by Thomas Parham.

Reading articles and donating to sites like the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI.org) are a good idea because they illuminate current issues and also work hard to mobilize efforts for change.

A good idea is to take a step back and just listen. Often, being understanding, empathetic, and supportive are the constructive steps needed to ensure that underrepresented voices are finally heard.

Black-Owned Wellness Businesses You Can Support

One of the best ways you can take control of your wellbeing but also discover new voices in wellness is by looking at these shape-shifting businesses owned by Black men and women. Here are six:


BLOOM HEALING ARTS (BloomHealingArts.co)

This Arizona, Wisconsin resident started Bloom Healing Arts because she felt that many people start their spiritual wellness journey and initially identify with popular trends like yoga. “But what often happens is, if we don’t like yoga, a lot of people stop there and say, this isn’t for me,” she says. Williams wanted to bring instructors of all modalities into one space, to offer solutions to people to explore what works best for them at their particular levels. “Each one has a gift. I truly believe that, and unfortunately, when people don’t discover that, we all miss out.”

Bloom Healing Arts offers online wellness classes for individuals and corporations, consulting services, coaching, on-site masterclasses, retreats, and more. The online wellness classes, which start as little as $10 per individual for unlimited classes each month, are a great value and can help you pick and choose the sessions you want or need at this time, from yoga to meditation. The online platform, a new offering partly due to the pandemic, is virtual and live and so there are no prerecorded classes, but it still gives a sense of community and participants can interact with each other. Courses include breathwork, energy work, healing, reiki, and mindset, and the instructors are global.


BYTE WELLNESS (Bytewellness.com)

Let’s face it: nutrition is tough! But Evanston, Indiana resident Mawusi Arnett, who recently completed her residency at Northwestern University, aims to provide nutrition tips, wellness training (essentially mini-courses), all delivered via text messages. “Byte Wellness is built with the experience of Black women in mind,” she explains, based on the patterns of nutrition she has found in this community, which are different from the needs of other ethnic minorities.

Working at the Lake Forest Hospital, she noticed health patterns that started to emerge among the Latino and Black communities who lived in the surrounding area. “The pattern I started to see is that some of the behavioral interventions were far more effective than the medicines she prescribed, particularly for the women who came in with high blood pressure, diabetes, and lack of access to healthy food. People living in “food deserts” –a location where the average resident would have to travel to access fresh produce. “Food swamps” are also a problem,” she says (flooded with poor food quality options). BYTE Wellness was created to help people gain control over some of the structural factors and physical environments that can harm healthy outcomes. Some of the text message mini-courses include a 10-week introduction to plant-based eating, including plant-based fats and proteins. “Pairing foods like lentils with grains, bean burritos, or rice are the deep insights you get with the text messages, and how to do that when your time is limited,” she said. There’s a nominal $10 monthly subscription.


BREATHWORK (ChaunaBryant.com)

A full-time Pilates instructor who has been practicing for 11 years, Chauna Bryant started leading Breathwork sessions while doing research in Southern California, but now resides in Washington D.C. “I had clients who would show up for my wellness sessions while going 100 miles a minute, and I taught them to just slow down and take deep breaths,” she laughs, explaining how her interest and Breathwork practice was born. She did training for it in New Mexico in 2017, up a mountain near Albuquerque, and realized that the breathing techniques she learned from a man called David Elliott made her and her clients feel truly present.

She typically leads these sessions during the summer, but now offers online sessions for those who need them. She is passionate about creating opportunities for people of color to go to breathwork training. “There’s something really powerful in representation,” she says. Prices for her classes range from $80-$130; participation in a group Breathing Circle costs $36, and she offers two $45 sessions monthly for BIPOC or members of the LGBTQ community. Weekly meditations are on her Instagram channel.



“My parents were hippies, and I was born in a commune in Los Angeles,” explains Schneider, who has lived all over the world, including Maui and Kona on The Big Island. Her “tumultuous” childhood included her living with her grandmother in South Central Los Angeles, and after she secured her legal degree from Georgetown Law, she lived in Germany, where she discovered so many quality cosmetics and skincare products. “Europe is careful about its skincare and has banned so many ingredients in skincare products that are bad for you,” she explains why she created the PETA certified Vegan Mia Organics. After her son developed eczema, she started developing products that really helped him, free of preservatives and animal derivatives.

Vegan Mia’s serums and elixirs not only smell great, they are also great for the skin. The Clarity elixir brightens, and the Harmony elixir is filled with adaptogenic herb extracts that help with stress. It also has licorice and marshmallow root extracts. The recently-launched company features all oilbased products ($59-$65 each), so there are no preservatives. Each product comes in a colorful, beautifully-designed package.


LIVE FEMME (theemotionalinstitute.com)

Maplewood, New Jersey, resident Bernadette Pleasant, found relief from her pain through therapy.

Recently, she has started to hold online grief rituals for people and has seen a huge interest in these Zoom sessions. “Emotion is a muscle, and I see a lot of people trying to put grief into some nice, neat, palatable place that doesn’t allow for the messiness of what we’re feeling right now,” she says.

The in-person sessions using tribal grief remedies including African drums have transitioned to extremely popular Zoom sessions focusing on grief. “I ask my participants: what does joy feel like?” Pleasant says.

Creator of “The Emotional Institute”—a place where people can learn about emotions and understand you and yourself better (its offerings include Femme!, a lifestyle movement inspired by African, Tribal and free dance and rhythms), Pleasant is passionate about bringing people together to connect the dots between sensual movements, vocalization, and emotional healing.

Pleasant is not immune to all the emotional challenges people are facing right now. “I have never felt so heartbroken that it has taken so much for eyes to open,” she says of the Black Lives Matter movement. “And on top of a pandemic.” She feels there will be a lot more focus on grief, and how people grieve is changing. “There’s a lot of guilt for people who are taking a look at racism right now, and having their eyes open.”

Pleasant also does individual consultations and prices for her sessions vary, but she welcomes everyone regardless of what they are able to pay.


SEVIIN YOGA (Seviinyoga.com)

The Atlanta-based couple, LeNaya and Branden Crawford, started Seviin Yoga as a need for a more diverse community. A different vibe of yoga is what people get when they sign up for a session. “Sunlit room and music that isn’t typically upbeat is not what we’re about,” says LeNaya. “We play hip hop, rock, and we give instructors the freedom to express their type of yoga. We are also in an LED-lit studio, so the color of the class aligns with the chakra that needs to open,” she says.

The response to their brand of yoga has been extremely well-received, and the studio attracts a wide demographic of young practitioners as well as folks in their sixties, “as well as a good deal of men who come,” she says. But the studio does have a large following from people of color. It currently offers tiers of membership: five classes for $55, and unlimited lessons for $95 per month.

Charu Suri is a freelance writer and musician, and the editor of Wellness Lounge.® She is an amateur yogi.

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